(The Humanitarian Social Network)
Stress: No One is Immune
People in Aid support some great research and resources aimed at improving organisational effectiveness in the humanitarian and development sector through improved management and support of personnel. I particularly liked the following quote taken from their ‘Code of Good Practice in the Management and Support of Aid Personnel’:
Personnel working in more stable environments may not face the same 'traumatic' experiences, but issues of work-related stress, foreign culture, harsh climate, isolation, illness/disease, professional stagnation, poor management, and dilapidated infrastructures can easily lead to distress, burn-out, and mental and physical deterioration. Whether chronic or acute, staff in humanitarian and development organisations work in emotionally demanding environments and need appropriate support.
--(People in Aid, 2003, p. 11)
I don’t know what grabs you – but from my experiences in the sector a couple of things stood out for me.
Firstly, whether engaged in humanitarian, development or relief work, everyone is subject to stresses. And plenty of them! I think this is important as very often the development folk can get neglected – though they might not be managing the same security risks, or dealing with medical epidemics, the stressors of working with corrupt and inept governments (hard to believe, I know!), nepotism in organisations and communities, lack of team work or unhelpful management should not be overlooked.
Secondly, issues of foreign culture, challenging climates and illness seem part of the deal that most of us accept (or expected to accept, or believe that we should accept) easily. As Fawcett (2003, p. 6) states “aid workers basically have a pretty shrewd idea of what they are getting into when they enter this career, and dirty clothes, gun shots at night and lack of electricity do not surprise them”. Rather, the phrase “professional stagnation, poor management” really hits the mark.
Though the term internship seems to get more leverage these days, the lack of career support, mentoring, and intentional promotion within the humanitarian industry has always concerned me as so many good people end up leaving. This obviously directly relates to the subject of management; in particular, poor personnel management. Though I understand the challenges of funding cycles, I think the room for improvements in helping individuals pursue meaningful careers in the industry is enormous. Short contracts, a lack of professional growth opportunities, and the absence of articulated career pathways in the humanitarian sector all contribute to professional stagnation, frustration, and the high turnover rate so prevalent in the industry. Maybe my vent is out of date (though speaking to friends still working I don’t get this sense); I wonder if almost ten years later, the appropriate support that People in Aid acknowledged as being necessary is really being provided?
By AidSource member, Elisa.
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Fawcett, J. (2003). Stress and trauma handbook: strategies for flourishing in demanding environments: Monrovia, California: World Vision International.
People in Aid. (2003). Code of Good Practice in the Management and Support of Aid Personnel. Retrieved from http://www.peopleinaid.org/pool/files/code/code-en.pdf